Best Films of 2013

As 2013 draws to a close it’s time for the obligatory top ten list. Here are my picks for the ten best movies of the year.

1. Captain Phillips

In this taught thriller directed by Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks delivers his best performance since Cast Away. The movie is based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips. As Internet Movie Database notes,

The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

It’s a raw physical and emotional performance that kept me on the edge of my seat. Hanks will surely get nominated for an Oscar and if he wins it will be well-deserved. Paul Greengrass continues to be the master of thrillers, especially ones based on true events. If you haven’t seen United 93 or Bloody Sunday, you should!

2. American Hustle

David O. Russell reunited with his Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence for this gem. The cast also features Christian Bale and Amy Adams. The story:

A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

Irving is played by Bale, in one of the best performances of his career. Add to the mix Lawrence as Bale’s wife, Bradley Cooper as the FBI agent,and you have a recipe for greatness! American Hustle is smart,funny,sexy and crackles with great dialogue. Look for Lawrence to get yet another Oscar nomination.

3. Much Ado About Nothing

I’m generally against any modernization of Shakespeare. I’m a purist, what can I say? But every once in a while an exception comes along (West Side Story, O). One such exception is Joss Whedon’s take on Much Ado About Nothing. It’s probably the best movie of 2013 that no one saw. Shot in black and white in Whedon’s own house, this low-budget take on the Shakespearean comedy was one of the best surprises of the year. Look for Whedon movie and TV regulars such as Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, and Nathan Fillion, just to name a few.

4. Saving Mr. Banks

Tom Hanks was so on his game this year that two of his films made my ten best list. Saving Mr. Banks tells the back story of how the Disney classic Mary Poppins was made. It took over 20 years for Walt Disney (Hanks) to get the rights to the books by P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). It’s a great character study of Travers and how Mary Poppins was inspired by people and events in her life. Hanks is a very convincing Disney and Thompson shines as Travers. Fair warning: bring Kleenex. This is an emotional story!

5. 42

42 tells the true story of Jackie Robinson and how he broke the color barrier when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Chadwick Boseman makes for an excellent Robinson,but it’s Harrison Ford who steals the show as Dodgers executive Branch Rickey. 42 really does a great job taking us back to the era when Robinson played and makes the audience feel the weight of what he’s up against. Harrison Ford is a long-shot for an Oscar nomination and that’s a crime!

6. The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann is a director who I’ve had a love-hate relationship with for a while. His modern take on Romeo and Juliet to me was a colossal failure. Moulin Rouge had great music but the love story felt flat to me. I greatly admired his movie Australia which was not a commercial success. His take on The Great Gatsby I think has the potential to go down as a classic! In the past his films have been all style and no substance. This time around his great visual eye blends well with the classic story based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the same name. The great cast includes Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. But the real star of the film is Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. He captures the brooding and mysterious Gatsby just as he was written in the book. Here’s hoping Baz Luhrmann continues to make films of this quality!

7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Fresh off her Oscar-winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence returns to the role of Katniss Everdeen that made her an international star. Catching Fire tops The Hunger Games in the same way the books topped each other. After showing up the capital in the previous Hunger Games,Katniss is at the mercy of President Snow (Donald Sutherland),who is enraged that her act of rebellion has given the people of Panem hope to rise up against the tyrannical government. In the sequel the Hunger Games participants are reaped from the pool of victors. So Katniss finds herself back in the arena. This time the participants of the games face blood rain,poisoned fog,dangerous baboons,among other things. If you thought the first film had high stakes…you ain’t seen nothing yet! Lawrence continues to dazzle as Katniss and the new cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new gamekeeper. Catching Fire does a great job of building on the last film and setting us up for the next installment.

8. The World’s End

The World’s End is the last part of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy which included Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The World’s End is about a group of high school friends who reunite to attempt an aborted pub crawl they did their senior year of high school. The advertising made it look like a movie about nothing but binge drinking. But there’s much more to it than that! It’s about the exploration of whether you can go home again,the transition from youth to adulthood,the value of friendship,and much more. It’s a fitting end to the films starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy last year. While that one had to primarily focus on setup, part two gets us right into the thick of the action. The story, as noted by Internet Movie Database:

The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring.

The action is thrilling,the world of Middle Earth stunning to look at,and Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing as the voice of Smaug the dragon. My only complaint is that it ends where it does. It’s a real cliffhanger and we have to wait until next year to see the rest. NOOO!!!!

10. Star Trek: Into Darkness

Back in 2009 J.J. Abrams rescued the Star Trek film franchise with his great reboot. This year we finally got a sequel and it was worth the wait! The Enterprise crew are now together and are in pursuit of a villain who attacked starfleet itself (he bombs the archives early in the film). The villain turns out to be (spoiler alert!) Khan. It’s impossible for anyone to play the role as well as Ricardo Montalban, but Benedict Cumberbatch makes it his own. And Khan gets more of a back story this time around so he feels like a better-developed character. It’s easy to get lost in the great action sequences,but the film features a lot of genuinely moving moments. The cast has grown into the parts since the first installment, especially Chris Pine as Kirk. I can’t wait to see where this franchise boldly goes next!

Those are my picks! What say you? Comment below!


The Essentials: Christmas Movies

First of all, I sincerely apologize for my long absence. I have been busy with a new job and haven’t had the time to write. Now, back to film! There are just ten days until Christmas, so I thought it would be a good time to suggest some Christmas movies for your holiday viewing pleasure. Some are staples, some are cult movies, some are comedies… I tried to include something for everyone. Let’s begin!

10. Die Hard (1988)

Who says you can’t watch an action movie at Christmas? I know, this one just happens to be set on Christmas. But it also happens to be one of the best action movies ever made! The plot: Bruce Willis plays NYPD officer John McClane. He flies to Los Angeles to see his wife for Christmas. Sadly his holiday plans go awry. He ends up having to save her and several of her colleagues who are taken hostage at an office building. Willis is great as McClane and Alan Rickman should have been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of slimy villain Hans Gruber.

9. Elf (2003)

I’m ashamed to say until a few years ago I had not seen this one. As much as I like Will Ferrell, I thought, “playing an elf? Really???!!!” But it works! It’s the story of Buddy the elf (played by Ferrell) who doesn’t fit in with the elf community due to his large size. The rest of the movie follows his journey to discover his true identity. It’s funny, fun, and sometimes profound. There was a lot more to this one than I expected.

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

For those of you looking for something dark and macabre with a unique visual style, might I suggest this gem from 1993? Done with a delightfully demented go motion animation style, this feature from producer Tim Burton is just terrific! The plot:

Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween — but alas, they can’t get it quite right. (Source: Internet Movie Database).

I do not recommend this movie for very young children. Some of the images are pretty dark and creepy. But for teenagers and up this is a great way to shake up your Christmas viewing!

7. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

I can’t imagine Christmas without this Frank Capra classic! The story of George Bailey (James Stewart) is truly timeless. Bailey is a small businessman who falls on hard times during Christmas. He even considers taking his own life. It’s a fascinating character-study. The message of the film is that every person’s life matters. That’s pretty profound. Note: watch the black and white version. Colorized black and white films are a crime against humanity!

6. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

I do not recommend this movie in its original format. I do however highly recommend the MST3K version. This one is so bad it’s awesome! The plot (if you can call it that) is that Martians kidnap Santa because no one will bring them gifts on Mars. That’s it. I can’t make this stuff up!

5. Gremlins (1984)

Here’s another one for the cult film category. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Part of the appeal, aside from the crazy plot, is that it’s an effective satire about commercialism. Internet Movie Database offers a good plot summary:

miniature green monsters tear through the small town of Kingston Falls. Hijinks ensue as a mild-mannered bank teller releases these hideous loonies after gaining a new pet and violating two of three simple rules: No water (violated), no food after midnight (violated), and no bright light. Hilarious mayhem and destruction in a town straight out of Norman Rockwell. So, when your washing machine blows up or your TV goes on the fritz, before you call the repair man, turn on all the lights and look under all the beds. ‘Cause you never can tell, there just might be a gremlin in your house.

It’s goofy but thoroughly entertaining.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

This is another holiday staple. In this animated classic, Charlie Brown struggles with the holiday blues. He’s appalled by the commercialization of Christmas. With each passing Black Friday the message resonates even more. It’s no wonder this one brings people together at Christmas.

3. Joyeux Noel (2005)

I had to include at least one foreign language film and this was a good candidate.The plot:

In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man’s Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood. This film dramatizes one such section as the French, Scottish and German sides partake in the unique event, even though they are aware that their superiors will not tolerate its occurrence.

Watch this one with Kleenex. It packs quite an emotional punch!

2. The Polar Express (2004)

I still cannot understand for the life of me why this one has not gained a wider audience. It’s based on a classic kid’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. It’s Christmas Eve and a young boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus boards a train for the North Pole. On the train he meets lots of other children and has adventures all the way to the North Pole. The look of the film is dazzling! And the score by Alan Silvestri has some great musical numbers. Years from now I hope this one is regarded as a classic. It deserves it!

1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

My late mother was one of the biggest fans of Charles Dickens. She told me of all the adaptations of A Christmas Carol, this one was the best. I agree! This movie is another example of how supremely talented Michael Caine is. Caine makes for a marvelous Scrooge! Then there’s Gonzo playing Dickens himself and the rest of the Muppets playing characters in their delightful adaptation of the literary classic. It’s funny, moving, and has some creative musical numbers (Scrooge being one of my favorites!). This movie is a staple for me this time of year. No matter what your age, you’re never too old for the Muppets!

That’s my list! Thoughts? Complaints? Discuss!